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From Complexity to Simplicity

In martial arts, to the beginner, when they first start out learning a technique or action, the initial learning oftentimes seems complex. Many of the techniques they are learning seem quite difficult and require much effort to do. For many, the movement or action may seem strange or foreign to their neural system. Movements feel awkward, clumsy, disconnected. They’re not sure what they’re doing, and they often make mistakes or errors each time they attempt to do it. After numerous repetitions their body smoothes out the technique so that it flows with little or no effort. Over a period of time they familiarize themselves with the movement and find they no longer have to concentrate so hard when they’re working on it. What to them at one time seemed complex now seems simple.

In Jeet Kune Do, the initial learning stage with regard to any technique or action is referred to as “synchronization of ‘self.” It’s the “how to” phase in which the primary objective is developing one’s understanding of, and ability to use a particular tool or skill. You consciously learn how to do something and develop your ability to do so.

Fine skills are distilled out of gross movements. During this stage one can use what is known as “rough draft” learning. According to neuroscientists, our brains rarely get complex learning right the first time. Instead we often sacrifice precision of technique and skill for simply getting something “close” or a “rough draft” of the motion. I remember my teacher, Dan Inosanto, telling me when he saw I was getting too caught up in technical details while learning a particular kick, “Forget about all that other stuff right now – just get a feel for the kick. You can refine it later.” What he wanted to impress upon me was that in training you move from the general to the specific. If, over time, what you’re learning maintains or increases in its importance and relevance for you, you will upgrade your rough draft movements to refined, polished, efficient techniques.

Transitioning from complexity to simplicity is an integral part of a martial artist’s learning process and path to proficiency. And while some individuals may progress down the path at a faster pace than others, everyone goes through it.

Complexity and simplicity are like Yin/Yang – both parts of the same circle. A good part of the incentive for training is the discovery that the complex techniques of yesterday are simple today and performed with ease. The clumsy and awkward efforts at the beginning are transformed into effortless dexterity (action) which will give you a true sense of accomplishment.

Train well, Train intelligently

Chris Kent

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